The debate in Australia continues to rage on about whether it's better if our favourite beers are independently owned or not. Is it a case of tall poppy syndrome vs the underdog, or is it more complicated than that? We asked two experts from the Australian beer industry to give us their insight.
GENERAL MANAGER OF THE INDEPENDENT BREWERS ASSOCIATION
Independence is crucial for ensuring a diverse, and exciting marketplace for beer drinkers. Prior to this recent surge in independent breweries, the options for consumers were limited and certainly not of the artisan nature that is now being produced. Our industry is jam-packed with makers who truly care about the quality and variety of ingredients they use and constantly push the boundaries of what you might think can be added to beer.
In the early 2000’s, you would have struggled to get anything in your glass that was not a lager from one of the major brewers, but consumer demand and their love of new and unique experiences mean we are now responsible for 47% of beer industry employment. Not only that, but two-thirds of independent brewers can be found in regional towns across Australia. That means money flowing into regional Australian households by providing much-needed jobs and boosting regional tourism.
You also need to consider the Aussies who grow hops and grain. Farmers who have struggled through droughts and bushfires now have the support of an almost entirely new industry. Now more than ever, the importance of buying and supporting local, provenance and ultimately, independence is critical.
Talk to malt suppliers around the country, who source grain from individual farmers, and they will tell you what a thrill it is to share a beer with a farmer whose own grain is in the glass. And when that beer pours through taprooms and craft beer bars around the country, it invites conversation about its provenance, the fascinating ingredients and the characters that make it. Not only does indie beer provide a unique experience, it supports Australians so you know where your money is going.
FOUNDER OF BEER DIVA, EDUCATOR, WRITER & JUDGE
There’s no doubt that people increasingly want to support smaller businesses. Everyone is becoming more community-minded, and as such craft beers lovers almost feel like they have a stake in their “local”. When it has been sold to what is ultimately a foreign company, they feel outraged as they have invested their time, energy, money in these breweries from the beginning. The owners are seen as being greedy – wanting to take the money and run – but in fact, a lot of the time they actually need the investment. It’s so expensive running a brewery.
It’s a classic Australian tall poppy syndrome: you want to be successful but as soon as you do, you’ve sold out. But the people behind these beers have their heart and soul in it. They want to do the best for their business, and have every right to!
I’ve noticed a lot of them have become a lot more disciplined about their contracts, to maintain the product quality and their independence. It’s now more of a mutual relationship; the big breweries understand that as soon as the beer starts to negatively change, they’ve lost their customer. If anything, the quality should get better, because they’re utilising all the expertise and investment that these big breweries have.
I’ve always had the opinion that we need big beer in Australia – it’s still 90% of the beer we drink. The category as a whole is declining and it has been for a long time. We need more people to drink beer, and if they start on VB, then move onto James Squires 150 Lashes, and eventually get to a Modus Operandi Pale Ale, the category has done a good job. And let’s not forget, the onus is also on the venues and retailers to decide what they range. They never seem to get caught up in the argument, yet they are the ones making the final decision about what to sell.
I can absolutely see both sides of the argument but ultimately, I think we just need to be a bit sensible about what’s really happening. These are businesses like any other and, if by having big brewery investing in them, they have bigger budgets to reach more people, that can’t be a bad thing!